Bruce Coville’s talk on school visits was probably the most useful hour of the conference for me. He talks fast…and I could hardly keep up with my note taking. But I did manage to get 3 pages of notes down. He spent the first half of the presentation offering advice and the second half showing us part of his school visit presentation (which was really fun to see!).
Here’s the advice he offered:
1) Take voice lessons (funny he should mention this…I found out about two weeks before this conference that it’s possible to take voice lessons that aren’t singing lessons…believe me, there’s no point in me taking singing lessons…but I could certainly learn to improve my voice…Bruce has this big booming voice…he doesn’t need a microphone. Ever. Wow.)
2) If you’re locked to a microphone or podium, you risk “visual boredom.” Keep moving so kids don’t know where to look next. (Up until I learned to use power point, I used to have two parts to my main presentation – the first part was the how-I-came-to-be-a-writer-and-these-are-all-my-books part, which I illustrated with overhead transparencies, and the second part was an interactive thing where I’d ask for volunteers and we’d act out the process of how a book gets published. When I learned power point, I took the how a book gets published part out and just let my power point take up most of the period. I think that was a mistake…I should shorten the power point and bring back the how a book gets published…otherwise I’m sure my presentation does suffer from visual boredom)
3) Get involved in community theatre, Toastmasters, comedy improv…take acting lessons and/or join a storytelling group. (Check! Well, Preteen is the one in community theatre, but I’m on the board…does that count? And I’m joining Toastmasters…and once I’ve completed my first six speeches, there’s an advanced Toastmasters group for storytellers! I’m at least taking steps to improve in this area…)
4) Think of your presentation as a show or performance. (Bruce’s presentation is absolutely a performance! I’m not so sure that line of thinking will work for me…I did much better once I started thinking of my presentation as “chatting with people about my writing” rather than “a SPEECH!!!” Thinking of my presentation as a PERFORMANCE is almost as scary as thinking of it as a SPEECH…though perhaps Toastmasters will help with that. In time.)
5) Remember you have two audiences…kids AND librarians (check!)
6) Try to be low fuss (check…though Bruce is way more low fuss than I am…I try to make things easy for the people who invite me. I’m pretty agreeable. But he goes beyond that…in addition to being agreeable, he’s also what he calls, “self contained,” which means he doesn’t require AV equipment or anything else for his presentation—excuse me, performance! I absolutely require a microphone. And even though I understand what he’s saying when he says “technology is not our friend,” I NEED my technology! I’m perfectly happy to bring my own power point stuff or transparencies…but I don’t think I could do away with them entirely…I’m just not entertaining enough on my own.)
Bruce’s system for keeping speaking engagements under control: He has 6-month folders. And in each folder is a paper for each month. The paper lists the venue, date, contact person, agreed upon fee, contract sent (yes/no), paid (yes/no). I’m not entirely sure I got everything…but what a great system for keeping organized. He says he makes a decision on how many days he’ll take for speaking each month and then he sticks to that. He’ll say, “I’m sorry, my calendar is full” (which is a really nice way of turning someone down – in a sense, you’re not the one turning them down…YOUR CALENDAR is…)
He’s found that the more he’s charged, the better he’s been treated. In fact, I THINK he said he never lost visits when he raised his rates. I’m not sure I can say the same. I raised my rates this year and I had two different schools call and ask for information, but then not follow up. Am I priced too high now, given schools have less money for bringing in authors?
Bruce says you should base your fee on:
1) the number of books you have out
2) how popular those books are
3) how good you are at speaking
These are the things that should be in writing:
1) no more than 3 performances a day (I’ll do up to four)
2) make it clear how long you’re going to speak
3) travel is covered
4) payment on the day of the performance (He says that if you hold your ground on that, you’ll be surprised at how “creative” a school that said they just couldn’t do that for whatever reason will get…I found that, too…I had one young author conference organizer tell me last year that they couldn’t pay me on the day of (fortunately, they told me two months before I went). I didn’t even ask for payment on the day of my presentation for my very first school visit…it took me FOUR MONTHS to get paid for that visit because the person who’s job it was to pay me quit, and then it was summer vacation, and then the replacement wasn’t sure who I was and what I was supposed to be paid for…at any rate, last year I told the conference organizer that I was sorry, but I needed to be paid the day of my visit or I couldn’t come. They made it happen! I wish I had asked Bruce what he does if he arrives at a school and they don’t have a check ready for him? I wonder if that’s ever happened to him? It hasn’t happened to me since my first school visit…but I know of people it’s happened to)
5) what size group you’ll be speaking to and how the kids will be grouped
He asks the school to send him a letter on school letterhead with the terms spelled out. (Now why have I never thought to have THEM send ME the agreement??? I always send a letter of agreement myself…and it takes time to do that!) He has them send two copies…he signs one and returns it, and keeps the other. The visit isn’t truly “booked” until he’s got a signed letter from the school. (I’m going to do it this way from now on!)
He talked a little bit about speaking to kindergarteners and first graders. He doesn’t think it’s worth it to speak to kindergarteners…they don’t care that you’re there. It’s the teachers who care. He keeps presentations for first graders to just 30 minutes. (I do the same thing…I’ll speak to kindergarteners and first graders, but I usually just tell them I’m an author and then we’ll talk about what means (which can be amusing). Then I read one of my picture books (asking them questions along the way) and I take questions. That’s it.)
You should ask what the speaking venue will be. He thinks gyms are the worst because kids have “body memory.” They think you’re in the gym to run around, so it’s hard for kids to sit there. (Interesting…I never thought about that.)
To prepare a presentation, think about what you want to say. He’d rather talk about ideas and the process of writing than just himself. (Yeah, I would, too…so why is my power point presentation so focused on ME??? Thinking of ideas for revising…)
You should know the beginning and end of your speech…the best speeches come when you know the beginning and end and what you want to talk about.
And then he launched into his presentation, which begins, “What we’re going to talk about today is books and where they come from.” I did actually take a few notes during this section, too, but because it truly was a PERFORMANCE, there’s no way reading a few notes would do justice to the performance. You really need to see Bruce in action to get the full effect.
Part 2 (which will be on Lisa Yee’s closing keynote) is coming soon…